Archive for February 2011

Now That I have Told You I Used to Be Harsh and Self-righteous, Won’t You Stop Being So Harsh and Comfort Me?

February 28, 2011

How do I know I am elect and now justified? Because I believe the gospel. Did my believing the gospel cause justification to happen? No! Did being imputed with Christ’s death cause me to believe the gospel? Yes.

Suppose the disciple Peter would say that he was operating out of legal fear when he betrayed Jesus. That doesn’t mean that Peter really was. Maybe he wasn’t. Well, you could say, he sure got bad results, since he ended up betraying the Lord three times. That’s why he messed up so bad, because of his legal fears.

But we all still sin. We are still all getting bad results. The justified elect are still habitual sinners. They are still not doing so well in morality, when they are measured by God’s standards for morality.
They are often still harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving.

My concern at this point is not only with sinning, not only with moralistic and self-righteous pride, not only with trying to figure out if you are really sorry this time, not only if you still make repenting of your repenting the future condition of your future salvation.

My concern at this point is if a person is knowing and thinking gospel. Or is a person not understanding and explaining the gospel but still talking about her sins?

I know that the Galatians were not always being motivated by the gospel. But there is a before and after, a beginning to believing the gospel. We can’t say: I was born believing it. We can’t say we were born reconciled and justified.

Conversion is about an in and out. The sheep follow the Shepherd and not the voice of strangers. They do not stay where we they not belong. Ecclesia means: called out, gathered together (here from there), separated by doctrine.

Immediate regeneration in the order of salvation results in a separatist ecclesiology. No church has a monopoly on the “means of grace” so that conversion must come gradually after a period of sacramental preparation.

What is the gospel, and do you believe it? John 20:23–“If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven if you with-hold forgiveness from anyone, it is with-held.”

Fear God Means Leave the Wrath to God

February 27, 2011

Dear Editor, Lancaster Sunday News,

How dare you lecture the Amish (and the rest of us) about what the Bible says about justice! Defending the status quo secular regime, you argue that the Amish have “to know from the Bible that its criminals must not be allowed to escape just punishment.” This conclusion assumes that there is only one way to read the Bible, and that this way is natural law with selective appeals to the Bible.

The Anabaptist tradition has not read the Bible your way, and the historical result has been patience to wait for God’s justice. Your impatience with Amish forgiveness sounds like you know what to do. You will do to criminals what God would do if God were still alive to do it!

But there is more to your argument: you are not really saying that God is out of business. You are claiming that God has made agents of the status quo regime. “The Bible does teach that Christians should submit to governors.” Of course you have no notion of appealing to Romans 13 when discussing the American rebellion against King George, or the regime changes in Iraq or Egypt. Your argument defines “submit to” in a way that would encourage collaboration and obedience to Hitler.

If your editorial board is going to start relying on the authority of the Bible (not for yourselves but for the Amish), then you need to begin with some exegesis. Romans 13 cannot be understood apart from its context. Romans 14 urges the overcoming of judgment among brothers and sisters. Romans 12:19 commands Christians not to avenge themselves but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine….”

I understand that you may not believe in God, or at least not in the God of wrath revealed in the Bible. Perhaps this is why you are so concerned to do what you think God would do in this situation if God were real enough to reveal standards your secular state could really follow. Or maybe you are just impatient with alternative ways of reading the Bible.

The context of submitting to the powers that God has ordained is important. 1. There is a difference between God ordaining evil to happen and God approving that evil. 2. There is a difference between submitting to the powers and agreeing that these powers are following God’s standards Satan does God’s work.

The Bible commands Christians to never exercise vengeance but to leave it to God. You can claim that the justice you advocate is not vengeance and not God’s wrath. But then Romans 13:4 (context!) says that the magistrate “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

Notice that the governors are executing the specific function which Romans 12:19 commanded Christians to leave to God. Though this does not prove that none of the governors are Christians, it does prove that none of them are obeying God at this point! And the text teaches us that God uses this disobedience (not leaving it to God) as wrath. God does not have to approve of the standards of the unforgiving secular regime in order to restrain sin with more sin.

This may sound more complicated than it is. The editorial page wants the Amish to go by the Bible, but not as the Amish have interpreted it but as non-Anabaptists do. But in the meanwhile, the editorial page has no notion that secular judges would go by either the Old or New Testaments.

So go by the Bible, which means letting us do it our way, which is not the way the Bible tells Christians to do it. Of course we will celebrate you for forgiving a murderer if that man is already dead. But if the criminal still lives, then we must have our justice now and not wait for God. Not only will this protect our families, but our wrath has already determined what the crime “deserves”.

In none of your appeal to the Bible do you refer to the death of Jesus Christ at the hands of Rome’s secular justice. James 1:19 “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” Psalm 76: 10—“Even human wrath shall praise you, for you are to be feared. Who can stand before you when your anger is roused?”

Covenant College Professor Tells us that “Limited Atonement Cannot be Allowed to Function as a Creed”

February 25, 2011

Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition , Kenneth J. Stewart, IVP, 2011

Mr. Stewart’s book is more ideological than historical. He aims to promote conformity to his own notion of tolerance. In the process, he seeks to exclude those he refers to as “thoroughly reformed” (p15) as extremists. Even though they don’t call ourselves that, he will label them that and then blame their “primitivism” (back to the 16th century) for the label!

For example, on p93, Stewart concludes that “TULIP cannot be allowed to function as a creed”. This dogmatism about what cannot be allowed follows a caricature of those who use the acronym “tulip” for Dordt’s response to the five points of Arminius. Stewart writes as if “conservative Calvinists” were more concerned about the acronym than about the specific doctrines. He does this, even though on pages 94-95, he lists various five-point books which use different acronyms.

(I notice that Stewart has no reference to the book written by McGregor Wright, No Place for Sovereignty, even though it was published also by IVP. Perhaps Stewart has already dismissed Mr Wright to the margins. And the best way to do that is to ignore a person.)

I notice also that Stewart, who teaches at Covenant College, makes no reference to the Systematic Theology of Robert Reymond, who taught for many years at Covenant Seminary. Perhaps all five point supra-lapsarians have been placed in some forgotten ghetto. Certainly the IVP book, Why I Am Not An Arminian, was strident in its criticism of supra-lapsarians.

Stewart accuses somebody with having a “Procrustean formula” (p84) and also with being “uncritical”. His criticism is itself an uncritical accusation (a formula) which seeks to be self-fulfilling. If you don’t join him (also Michael Haykin and Reid Ferguson) in rejecting the idea of “limited atonement”, then you become guilty of defending the acronym. Since he thinks some of us are on the margins, the purpose of the book is to either re-educate us (the assumption is that we just don’t know the past) or to put us in our place–on the margins where he claims we already are!

If those who care about antithesis with universal and governmental notions of the atonement are simply “strident” (AW Pink, p280) and “contentious” (Nettleton, p87) and “belligerent” (p85) malcontents, why does Stewart think he needs to “blow the whistle on” them? (p12) The answer is that Stewart is a relativist, who thinks the five points are only “one form of Christianity”.

To him, the five debates are not about the gospel, but at the most, only about finding out later how you came to believe (p16) the “gospel” that all evangelicals have in common. This is why Stewart’s book is endorsed by folks like Richard Mouw, who in his own book, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, explains that “limited atonement” is for him only a “shelf doctrine” which has no practical import, except for his claim to still be a “card-carrying Calvinist”.

Those who want to dismiss TR’s want to bring forward into history the sufficient formula embraced by Dordt but leave behind limited atonement (intended for the elect alone) as “an index for gauging orthodoxy”. Aiming at “inclusion”, they must exclude those of us who won’t tolerate a propitiation that does not propitiate. Aiming at “accomodation”, they cannot accomodate those who deny that there is “generous room at the cross” for every sinner.

Stewart can write all he wants about the “adequacy and capaciousness” of an atonement to save the non-elect. But if the death of Christ does not save the non-elect, then it was not enough to save them. And since this is true, this is either because God never intended the death of Christ to save the non-elect or because the death by itself is not adequate to save anybody. (On this topic of “sufficient/efficient”, I would recommend the book by baptist Tom Nettles, By His Grace and For His Glory, another five-point book not mentioned by Stewart.)

But Stewart warns us (p89) that if we do not go along with his “sufficient for everybody” Procrustean formula, we will end up in a marginalized “self-imposed ghetto”. He demands that we learn to teach a gospel of which the Arminians can approve.

Stewart does not seem to notice that the “gospel” held in common by evangelicals is an Arminian antithesis, opposite to the TRUTH confessed by Dordt. To him, Calvinism has nothing to do with God’s effectual call, but only a good thing if learned incrementally and with moderation. As a relativist with “breadth” and “diversity”, he thinks some of us “have too much of a good thing.” (p13)

Stewart does manage to show that his kind of relativism is not new in Reformed history. He points to Warfield’s (Plan of Salvation) embrace of all super-naturalists (Arminians and Romanists included) as having something in common which is more basic than any Calvinist antithesis.

But even here, we have ideology at work and not history only. Instead of discovering that the tradition was not as clear about grace as it could have been, and that it is now better because of more antithesis, Stewart simply assumes that what’s more recent has to be worse. Too much of a good thing is a very bad thing, the relativists want to tell us, even as they are in the very act of attempting to change our notions of what is “moderate”.

It was Not Our Imputing that made Christ Die

February 19, 2011

Before we jump to the redemptive historical complexity of union and identification with the death (when are the elect in Christ by imputation? 2000 year ago? Before or after faith?), we need to focus on Christ’s death to sin.

Does “Christ’s death to sin” (Romans 6) mean that Christ was unregenerate and then positionally cleansed by the Holy Spirit? God forbid. Does it mean that Christ was carnal but then infused with the divine and became a partaker of the divine nature? Again, God forbid. Does it mean that Christ by being in the environment of the old covenant needed a deliverance from “the flesh” and from the physical body? Once more, God forbid.

What does it mean that Christ died to sin? It means that the law of God demanded death for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ. As long as those sins were imputed to Christ, He was under sin, he was under law, He was under death.

Now death has no more power over Him? Why? Because the sins are no longer imputed to Him, but have been paid for and satisfied. The gospel is not about just about God justifying, but also about God being just and justifier.

Liberals say that it’s not forgiveness if God had to pay for it. Arminians say it’s not justice for God to condemn a person without giving Jesus to die for that person, and that Jesus has done that, so now God can justly condemn those who won’t accept it.

A lot is written about imputation these days. A lot of it‘s Arminian or Lutheran talk of an exchange made by the sinner’s faith. Little is written about the imputation of Adam’s sin, but even less about God’s imputation of sins to Christ. I think at least part of the reason for the silence is that “ministers” don’t want to talk about whose sins are imputed or when they are imputed. (See for instance, the new book by southern baptist Vickers)

This is not the time to think through the timing. (Even when we agree with Owen’s use of impetration, where sins which have been imputed to Christ are still imputed to the elect until their justification, we still have the question if imputation logically immediately precedes or follows faith.)

But if we content ourselves with saying that the sins of “believers” are imputed to Christ, we not only avoid the good news of election but also (by lack of antithesis) contribute to the evangelical consensus that the efficacy of Christ’s death depends on believing.

The gospel tells how believing is the effect of the cross. The gospel tells us which Christ is the object of believing (the Arminian “Christ” is an idol and a lie).

Is God Reconciled by what God did or what the Sinner needs to Do?

February 19, 2011

One response to my question would be to point out that the Bible does not ever talk about God being reconciled. Period. Since God is timeless, there can be no such thing as before and after with God, no such thing as propitiation, no such thing as a transition from wrath to favor.

I agree that God is the subject of Reconciliation, the one who reconciles. I disagree with Socinians who deny that God is the object of His own Reconciliation.

Let me channel John Murray for a minute. First, Romans 5:17 speaks of “receiving the reconciliation”. Surely, this does not mean overcoming your enmity in order to overcome your enmity! It means to passively receive by imputation what Christ did.

Second, Matthew 5:24 (sermon on the mount) commands “leave your gift there before the altar and first be reconciled to your brother.” So, even though sinners are the objects of reconciliaton, though sinners receive it, this reconciliation is not only the overcoming of the hostility of the elect, but what God has done in Christ to overcome God’s own judicial hostility to elect sinners.

Do You impute Your Sins to Christ, Or Did God Already Impute the Sins of the Elect?

February 19, 2011

Many “Reformed” folks talk about the objectivity and justice of the cross.. But then they continue to make ultimate salvation depend on “appropriation” done by the sinner.

Even if you say that grace has to overcome the bondage of your will to “take it” (the word appropriate sounds like “steal” to me, but Sproul uses it so it must be ok: it means go get it with your empty hands), there are two problems with leaving out the idea that God already did or didn’t impute a person’s sins to Christ.

One, there is no notion here that Christ’s death purchased the work of the Spirit and faith for the elect. Even if God by grace gives the faith, if you leave out of your gospel God’s imputation, if you disconnect the death from election, that faith you talk about God giving is not a result of Christ’s work, even though the Bible teaches that it is (I Peter 1:21;II Peter 1:1; Eph 4:7-8; Phil 1:29).

Two, there can be no notion of a penalty for specific sins imputed, and therefore those Calvinists who teach a governmental view of the atonement (Andrew Fuller, Richard Baxter) end up with a propitiation that does not propitiate, a ransom that does not redeem, and a reconciliation that does not reconcile.

The Calvinists who “offer” an universal objective atonement cannot talk about God’s imputation of the guilt of the elect to Christ. They cannot even talk about God’s imputation of the elect’s penalty to Christ. They can only think of the cross as one “means of grace” people can use to get God’s wrath averted.

Sinners become the deciders, whenever you leave out the good news that God is the imputer and that God has already imputed the sins of the sheep to the Shepherd (and not the sins of the goats ).

Are you the Kind of Calvinist an Arminian Can Approve?

February 18, 2011

The preachers who “play it safe” enough for nobody to notice their “Calvinism” easily do so because they are really Arminians

Any “gospel” which says that Christ died in common for every sinner but that not all these sinners receive a common salvation is logically saying that Christ’s death is not enough for any sinner.

In John chapter 10, Jesus says that he dies for the sheep. Jesus also says that those who do not believe do not do so because they are not his sheep.

There are many all statements in the NT. II Cor 5:14-15 identifies the “died for all” with the “all have died”. This is representative substitution. Some Arminians give lip-service to the idea of penal substitution. More logically consistent Arminians denies that this is the nature of the atonement.

In any case, unless you are an universalist, then you cannot teach from II Cor 5:14-15 that non-elect sinners have died.

To go to one more “all” statement, Romans 5:18 teaches that one trespass (Adam’s by imputation) led to condemnation for all, so one act of righteousness (Christ’s death) leads to justification and life for all. Again, unless you are an universalist, you cannot read this to teach the justification of every sinner. Neither can you read it to mean the possibility of justification, if extra conditions are met.

Even though all the elect are born in Adam, they do not stay in Adam. Only the elect are in view on both sides of a verse like Romans 5:18 (also I Cor 15:22, where the resurrection of the non-elect is not in view).

I do not teach that Christ died for all sinners. I do teach that Christ will save all for whom He died. There are many differences between Calvinists, but any “Calvinist” who denies that Christ will save all for whom He died is not a Calvinist.

A propitiation which does not propitiate is not a real propitiation. A redemption which pays the price but does not redeem is not a redemption.

Arminians assume that the default baseline interpretation of John 3:16 is what Billy Graham says, that Jesus loves everybody that He died to give everybody a chance. John 3:16 teaches that only as many as believe in Him will not perish. It does not teach that Jesus died to condemn anybody or to make anybody an offer. It certainly does not teach that God loves those who perish.

Anybody who denies that the death of Christ is what makes the difference between saved and lost will self-righteously add something else to the equation, something other than Christ’s death, to make the difference between saved and lost., Anybody who teaches that Christ died for every sinner but not every sinner is saved, is thereby conditioning salvation on something in the sinner being saved, even if they give God the credit for putting that something there.

Isaiah 53;11—“out of the anguish of his blood he shall see and be satisfied, by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

My point is not simply about the extent or intent of the cross; it’s about the nature and necessity of that death. This “justice” which demands salvation for all for whom Christ died is the joy of my life.

To give some NT texts: John 17:2 “You have given the Son authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given Him.” The Lord Jesus asks for the elect, not for the world (in this text, the non-elect, not everybody) based on the fact that “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work you gave me to do.”

Christ’s justice, the righteousness of the last Adam, leads to eternal life, according to Romans 5:21. As Romans 8:10 teaches, “the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” II Peter 1:1 teaches that those who are given faith in the gospel obtain that faith “by the righteousness of our God and Savior Christ.”

Calvinists like John Piper say that they are also Arminians (plus some more). I am not like them. I am not an Arminian also. While they do philosophy about “common grace” and “offering what Christ didn’t do”, I am sticking with Scripture. They are welcome to all the labels like classical and evangelical.

Lutherans teach baptismal regeneration and that the once justified can become apostate and that Christ died for all sinners. While Lutherans are not exactly Arminians, I am not bound to a Reformed confession. I am content to talk about the righteousness, the justice, what really happened at the death of Christ.

I judge that Arminians are still ignorant of the gospel, not yet Christians. The nicer and kinder Calvinists of whom Arminians approve judge that I am simply ignorant, and that I am incapable of understanding what I read from them.

I appreciate it when Arminians and tolerant Calvinists begin to see that we are not talking about two versions of the same thing, with one group being on the better side of the road.

There is no contradiction between the idea of God saving as many as believe, and the many Scripture texts which teach that God has chosen some sinners to salvation, and to believe. I Cor 1:16 “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

It is a false Calvinism which would teach that God saves people apart from the true gospel. I Cor 1:16 teaches that the message of the cross (the death, what was it for, what difference did it make?) is the power of God. Where there is a false gospel, there is no power of God to save. The necessity of believing the gospel by no means contradicts the truth that “God chose you to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (II Thess 2:13)

The false teachers of adding circumcision do not deny that Jesus died, but they deny that the death alone saves. Since Arminians teach that Jesus died for every sinner, but not every sinner will be saved, then Arminians also deny that the death alone saves. It’s something else added which must save, according to their view.

The Scripture teaches that there is a repentance which does not please God, and a repentance which does. Any repenting that thinks that it’s the extra thing (besides the cross alone) which will make the cross work is a repenting which God finds to be an abomination. Such a repenting sets itself up in competition with Christ’s death.

Some Arminians think there is only kind of Calvinism, the kind they know, the kind which they approve.

Unconditional election is incompatible with “the free offer”. I agree on this point with Arminians against all those Reformed people in the middle. That being the case, I find it ironic that these same Arminians fault me for not being an “orthodox Calvinist”.

If their point is that “orthodox Calvinists” contradict themselves, then why would they want me to be one of those guys. Unless of course they need a strawman which says that all Calvinists contradict themselves!